Paul Taylor Dance Company, Sadler's Wells, London, ***

Nadine Meisner
Tuesday 28 January 2014 03:40
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Every once in a while, Paul Taylor makes one of his biting anthropological pieces – pieces that are dark and weird, but have you obsessively turning them over in your mind long after. The Word belongs to the same category as Taylor's popular Speaking in Tongues, made in 1988, a depiction of evangelism and its despotic hold on followers. Arriving 10 years later, The Word presents a cast identically dressed, regardless of gender, in shirts, ties and knickerbocker trous-ers. Men and women thus become semblances of Victorian public schoolboys, cloned participants in a terrifying system of group conformity and rigid, fearful discipline. This is one of Taylor's views of human society. It is the perspective of a man who had he not become a choreographer might have been a zoologist, especially an entomologist, fulfilling a lifelong love affair with "anything that flies, crawls or slithers".

Arriving like an unwanted guest within the group is Lisa Viola, in a flesh-coloured leotard as if naked, her loose long hair tumbling about her face. She rolls, tumbles and curves organically in opposition to the upright torsos, stiff arms and linear patterns of the uniformed group. She is primitive instinct, the raw animal nature which the others are so intent on controlling – or at least that's how I saw a piece that had others puzzled.

What we also saw was a company, perhaps sleeker, perhaps less individualistic than before, which moves with a superb athleticism and musical finesse. The repertoire may be all by the same man, but what variety it encompasses. An old piece, Roses, pairs music by Wagner and Heinrich Baermann, for the floor-patterns of dancing couples. The dynamic is evenly-paced, the mood serene and civilised, except for a few surprises, like the leapfrogging, undignified jumps of partners between each others' legs, or like the halts into collections of disparate poses, as if these were snapshots, taken during a day out in the country. And then, when you think it's all over, Silvia Nevjinsky and Patrick Corbin arrive, dressed in gleaming, contrasting white, to launch into a long, graceful pas de deux.

I'm not one to swoon over the kind of lengthy lyricism which is at the core of Roses, but Offenbach Overtures is even less my cup of tea. Offenbach's music and the belle époque become a context for heavy-handed satire, displaying the rivalries and vanities of a frivolous society. Individuals mock each other, vie with each other. Gestures are fussily mannered and presumably "French" to someone like Taylor who has openly stated his dislike of all things French. The titters in the audience indicated that the humour found some like-minded souls, but as a finale it felt like a damp squib to me and seriously weakened the company's second London programme.

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